Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent: Preparation for What?

Virgin and Child -
6th century Byzantine

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel

Advent is a time of preparation. It is rooted in the longing to see the Son of God appear, for the promise is that Emmanuel shall appear to us.  While there is the urge to jump start Christmas by displacing Advent, Advent plays an important role in our spiritual journeys.  There is, of course, an apocalyptic aspect to the season, for at least some of the lectionary texts speak of a sudden inbreaking of God's realm.  

While this is a season of preparation, it is good not to lose sight of the primary message of the larger season that connects Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. God is coming. God is here. We're not alone. At the moment one of the books I'm reading is William Willimon's How Odd of God: Chosen for the Curious Vocation of Preaching. The book is a reflection on preaching in conversation with Karl Barth and his doctrine of election.  While many discussions of election speak of whether God chooses one person over another, for Barth election has to do with the incarnation, and it is a choice that precedes the fall. I thought that this reflection from Willimon on Barth, election, and the incarnation would resonate for the season.

Suggesting that for Barth the key text relating to incarnation and election is 2 Corinthians 5:19, Willimon writes: 

Jesus Christ is not only the demonstration of God's electing love but also its active, personal, present agent. Incarnation is not a divine strategy, an afterthought set somewhere in an unreachable past. Incarnation is who God, God reaching to us, through election, in the present. Incarnation is understood neither as divine humiliation (Luther) nor as God's hiding in human flesh (Calvin) but rather as full revelation of God's condescension, the actual being of God. God has refused to render us the violence we deserve, that is God has refused to relate to us as we relate to others. At every turn God matches our blustering no with God's gracious yes. (How Odd of God, p. 33).
"Incarnation is who God is." According to Willimon, reflecting on Barth's doctrine of election, incarnation -- embodied presence with us is not foreign to God, but it is who God is. God is spirit, that is true, but spirit doesn't mean having no embodied presence. This Advent, let us reflect on what it means to be in communion with the embodied presence of God.  

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